THE rumours of the dive watch’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Whether or not you take a dive watch deep underwater, there’s no denying the genre is as popular as ever. Also, 2017 was a particularly good year for underwater watches. Let’s take a last plunge of the year and revisit some of the best.
Panerai 42mm Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio
Starting the year with a splash at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) event was Panerai, which put a new smaller twist to its familiar Luminor Submersible diver. The 42mm Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio, which writer, photographer and adventurer James Stacey recently reviewed, is finally a more wearable version of what has long been one of my favourite dive timepieces. At 47mm, the Submersible line is traditionally attractive but missed the, erm, boat, for most people due to its gargantuan size. The minimalist, with a slight steampunk aesthetic on this one, works well with the more compact proportions and fits those of us who aren’t action movie heroes.
Sinn U1 Professional
Sinn usually flies under the radar with its dive watches, but a special US-market version of its stark U1 sold out quickly, thanks to small tweaks the German brand made at the suggestion of one of its most ardent fans, a Florida cop. The so-called U1 Professional’s differences from the standard dive timepiece are subtle but significant, such as a black bezel with white markings, fully hardened steel case and an altered dial with less text. They also did away with the date function and, most noticeably, moved the crown to the left side of the case. I had a chance to dive into a chilly Great Lakes shipwreck with the U1 Professional back in the spring, where it more than proved its (German submarine steel) mettle.
Bremont Type S300 And Type S301
Bremont is better known for its aviation-themed watches but at their London townhouse showcase event, they debuted new additions to their Supermarine diver line-up. The S300 and vintage-inspired S301, most significantly departs from the other Supermarines in size, shrank to a 40mm case and slimmed down, mainly due to a more modest water resistance of 300m, instead of the 500m or 2,000m of the bigger references. While the dials of these watches have a more conservative dive watch formula, the cases retain Bremont’s distinctive Trip-Tick profile and, fitted with leather straps, I think would work as well topside as underwater.
At the Baselworld event, we were spoiled for choice in terms of dive watches. Many brands trotted out new aquatic hardware, such as Breitling’s new Superocean Heritage II, Tudor’s Black Bay Steel, and Omega’s “Trilogy” 60th Anniversary Seamaster 300. However, what we all came to see was the 50th anniversary Sea-Dweller from Rolex, and in typical fashion, Rolex didn’t give us what we expected. Sure, there was the red text on the dial that we all wanted, but the watch also comes in a new 43mm size and — blasphemy — a “Cyclops” date magnifier. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan when I first saw the watch, but by October, when I spent a few days diving with it in Mexico, I saw the light, so to speak. Its 43mm is a pretty great size for a dive watch, and it emphatically sets it apart from the smaller Submariner. As for the Cyclops? The rationale that it’s an improvement that Rolex can now confidently add to its 1,220m dive timepiece is debatable, but as someone with ageing eyes, I can’t say it’s unwelcome.
Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook Limited Edition
At the spectrum’s other end at Baselworld was a watch that caught me, and many others, by surprise. The Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook Limited Edition was, without question, my favourite dive timepiece featured at the showcase, and one of my top two or three for the year. Firstly, Rado isn’t exactly a brand known for its dive watches, much less ones with pitch-perfect 1960s styling. Also, who knew a 37mm watch could stand toe to toe with the big boys? However, its restrained pure ‘60s styling without heavy-handed faux-tina, solid specifications sheet including a ceramic bezel and an 80-hour automatic movement, and a reasonable price made the Captain Cook a darling among many visitors at the showcase. Also, despite Rado’s and sceptics’ insistence that a 100m-rated watch without a screw-down crown is not meant for diving, it did just fine on my wrist over a week of diving in the Caribbean.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute To Mil-Spec
Blancpain was there at the beginning, debuting the Fifty Fathoms at the 1953 Basel Watch Fair, and every year they try to recapture the magic with a new spin on the classic formula. In 2017, it was an homage to one of the more famous vintage watches from the illustrious lineage — the “Mil-Spec”. At 40mm, it’s a more wearable Fifty Fathoms than they’ve had in recent years and the matte black dial with painted markers is the first Blancpain dive watch in a long time that comes close to recapturing the “tool watch” styling that so many people love about the humble ones of yore. Of course, the Tribute to Mil-Spec’s calling card is the moisture indicator disc on the dial that changes colour to let you know that your US$14,000 (RM56,700) watch has leaked.
Doxa SUB 300 Aqua Lung Edition
While Rolex was crowing about the Sea-Dweller’s 50th anniversary, Doxa was also celebrating anniversaries — the 50th of its iconic (yes, I’m using that word) SUB 300 diver, and the 75th(!) of the aqualung, one of the 20th century’s most significant inventions. The SUB 300 Aqua Lung Edition followed up the 50th anniversary of the SUB 300 released in late 2016, adding a black “US Divers Co” logo to the dial of the orange Professional. This seemingly minor tweak to an existing watch had Doxa fans drooling, since the configuration is one of the rarest of not only Doxas, but dive watches in general, with less than 20 rumoured to have been built in 1967. Doxa made this limited series with the full support of the Aqualung dive equipment company, founded by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and still going strong today. The watch itself is about as faithful to a 1967 original as you’re apt to find and taking one diving was no small thrill for me this past summer.
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Diver
Bell & Ross (B&R) tends to reboot its dive watch every 10 years. The earliest ones, the Type Marine and the Hydromax, were fairly conventional dive varieties based on then-partner Sinn’s solid formula. The second iteration, the BR02, was pretty, but fairly impractical as a real world dive watch. So, the BR03-92 Diver was a breath of fresh air that seemed familiar at the same time. That’s because it’s based on B&R’s long-time trademark square shape, borrowed from its aviation-themed collection. And you know what? It works. A more dive-styled dial and uni-directional bezel, with requisite splashes of orange make the BR03 Diver a handsome alternative if round watches aren’t your thing.
Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017
Did you see a theme in 2017? A 42mm Panerai, 40mm Bremonts, a 37mm Rado. Being smaller was “in” — although Rolex clearly didn’t get the memo — as well as vintage. The “heritage” trend of the past few years showed no sign of letting up. Seiko got in on the game, following up on its winning SRP “Turtles” of two years ago, with an homage to its very first dive timepiece — the reference 6217 from 1965. The clumsily-named SLA017 is a spitting image of its historical inspiration right down to its waffle rubber strap, but gets a significant upgrade in the movement department with the 8L35 calibre, essentially a de-tuned Grand Seiko motor. The steel case also got a hardening treatment for scratch protection and water resistance got a 50m upgrade from 1965, to 200m. Some quibbled about the US$4,000 (RM16,360) price, but no matter, the limited edition sold out quickly and you’ll likely never hear an owner quibble about the watch’s quality.
Citizen Promaster 1000M Professional
At the spectrum’s other end in almost every aspect, Citizen also debuted a new dive watch — the 52mm (and 21mm tall!) Eco-Drive 1000M Professional Diver. I recently took it diving for a review and was impressed with its sheer audacity, if not for its wearability. It is nothing short of a preposterous engineering exercise — think the “deepest solar-powered watch” — for an era where only few divers actually wear diving watches. Yet, it stands in such a stark contrast to 2017’s retro-styled, conservative, sometimes downright dainty, dive watches, that I have to include it in my list since it goes to show that brands continue to push the boundaries of depth, design and capabilities, even 64 years after the Basel show when Blancpain, Rolex and Zodiac first showed the world a “diving watch”.